Cookbook review: Plant-based comforts, with a hip-hop beat

‘Vegan Mob: Vegan BBQ and Soul Food’ by Toriano Gordon with Korsha Wilson (Ten Speed, $30)
"Vegan Mob: Vegan BBQ and Soul Food" by Toriano Gordon with Korsha Wilson (Ten Speed, $30)

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

"Vegan Mob: Vegan BBQ and Soul Food" by Toriano Gordon with Korsha Wilson (Ten Speed, $30)

Rapper-turned-chef Toriano Gordon grew up in Fillmore northeast of San Francisco — better known to locals as Fillmoe. In the 1950s, it earned the nickname “Harlem of the West,” with numerous Black-owned businesses lining the streets and big-name artists such as Billie Holiday and Dizzy Gillespie performing in local nightclubs.

That’s where Gordon bought his first hip-hop albums, leading him to record his own as a teenager. It’s also where he learned to cook — from his Texas-born grandmother and other family members who congregated regularly over backyard barbecue and gargantuan home-cooked spreads.

After a health scare prompted Gordon to give up meat, he began experimenting with vegan versions of barbecued brisket, mac and cheese, gumbo and other meat- and dairy-rich favorites. He sold plates of his creations out of his car and at farmers markets before opening his wildly popular restaurant, Vegan Mob, in Oakland in 2019. He explains in the introduction to “Vegan Mob: Vegan BBQ and Soul Food” (Ten Speed, $30) that his cooking, like his music, is a product of the Bay Area and, in particular, Fillmoe, the “neighborhood that raised me and gave me my swag.”

Gordon’s fusion-style recipes and the stories behind them paint a vivid portrait of those communities and capture the diversity of flavors within them: soul, Asian, Latin, Caribbean. Many include plant-based alternatives for beef, shrimp, sausage and cheese, and he shares the names of his favorite brands. These turn up in Smackaroni and Cheese, Original Brisket Barbequito, La La Lumpia and Chicken ‘n’ Waffle Bussdowns.

If you’re not into fake meat, he has you covered with Smackin’ Mackin’ Potato Tacos, Brussels Sprouts with Pecans or the delightfully hearty and flavorful Mobby Four-Bean Chili I tried, which incorporates zucchini and yellow squash.

Gordon ends with a chapter on throwing a party that includes crowd-pleasing appetizers, desserts, a few fruity non-alcoholic drinks and these words of advice that can be applied to any kitchen situation: “Bring your own vibe, your own flavor, and have fun.”

Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at

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